The following will be a highly controversial topic and a hard pill to swallow for many Muslims in our communities. I hope that it provokes contemplation, creates understanding and promotes mutual cooperation for the betterment of our Islamic communities. After years of experience, I can see that there needs to be an understanding of the nature, role and methods of law enforcement among the communities they serve.
When I was young, this understanding was commonly taught to us school kids as police officers paid regular visits to our classrooms to help us learn through the local police department kids program. It is something that is rarely done among Muslims in the US, though I did arrange a police department kids program with Muslim school children in 2004 at an Islamic school which was a big success with the kids. The children especially loved questioning the officers and brought out some really good questions to resolve their own misunderstandings, fears and general curiosity.
There are many levels of cooperation. However, for the sake of this article, I will focus on the use of confidential informants in law enforcement.
Confidential informants have been used as a tool in domestic law enforcement for a long time in many Muslim countries and the west. They continue to be considered an invaluable tool by all law enforcement agencies against extremism by Muslims or other (non-Muslim) groups, organized crime, in drug enforcement and other crimes. However, in some cases they are not without controversy. Due to the social stigma of “informing” authorities about the criminal acts of one’s family or friends, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation on surrounding the use of informants.
“Not many people know very much about informants: and to many people, it’s a queasy area. People are not comfortable with informants…the informant is THE with a capital “T” THE most effective tool in law enforcement today – state, local, or federal.” ~William Webster
Motivations of informants can very widely. Some can be the upstanding citizen either on the lookout for, or who happen to come to the knowledge of, criminal activity. Informants are not necessarily random law abiding citizens, but can be the leaders of our organizations, President, Imam, Sheikh, etc. They may also be people who have been involved in a group that turns to criminal activity, themselves being involved in a crime and turning on an individual or group to reduce sentencing or reducing prison sentence if already convicted.
Some informants are not paid for their information and many others are. Informants are not used legally by law enforcement in the US to subvert religious groups, act as Agent Provocateurs to incite religious communities or unjustly accuse people, but rather in intelligence led investigations on criminal activity.
“Informants are not official employees of the FBI, but many receive compensation for their services; they are screened for suitability before they enter into relationships with the FBI and are screened periodically thereafter.” ~PBS
There are three basic classifications:
- Confidential Informant – Used to provide additional information in and investigation.
- Cooperating Witnesses – Used to testify and have agreement regarding their obligations and expectations.
- Sources of Information – Unlike CI’s and CW’s do not collect information but provides legitimate routine access to information (Example).
The ability to use informants has historically provided an invaluable tool to law enforcement agencies to bring to light secretive crimes that would ordinarily not present themselves for investigation.
The use of such sources has become essential to FBI operations, with informants — including “privileged” informants, such as attorneys, clergy and physicians — supplying short — to long-term services. ~PBS
The use of informants have been standard procedure for the FBI in the fight against organized crime since 1961. In 1978 was created a programme which could provide informants to assist in active FBI investigations.
Informants have been used most notably against the mafia and other organized crime, drug enforcement, right wing radical groups and terrorism or radicalism (international and domestic) cases with a great degree of success.
The use of confidential informants in terrorism related cases is highly controversial among Muslims in the west, particularly the United States. The tendency among many Muslims is to view their use as government invasion of privacy, entrapment and the unjust targeting of “Muslims” in general.
Like in many cases involving general crime, some people can get caught up in an investigation due to abuse of the use of informants by law enforcement. This is a rare exception and not the rule. Government agencies understand that there is a need for ethics in the use of informants. It is important for our communities to insure proper oversight of agencies that use informants and even more important that these agencies follow through to maintain a factual case, integrity and professionalism while using informants.
In light of world affairs, it seems especially prudent for the Muslim community to prevent acts of terrorism or radicalism before it happens rather than react to it after the fact. Muslim informants from within the Islamic community are better suited to act as a guide for law enforcement than an outside investigator reacting after the fact. They are also better suited than someone who doesn’t know how to navigate the community, interpret and understand the language or to identify what someone has expressed intentions to do. Muslim informants are the most likely people to insure that the government does not make an unjust case based on misunderstandings and prejudice.
Plots are not hatched in the open and cannot be discovered by ordinary means. If there is a possibility of a threat from radicalism in our communities then these types of investigations are necessary due to the nature of secrecy involving plotting such acts.
In a time when the Islamic community has serious problems with people traveling to Iraq and Syria to join groups like ISIS or Al Qaida, it is just as important that we deal straight with the government instead of acquiescing radicalism or terrorism and then reacting against law enforcement when a plot is uncovered by an investigation involving an informant.
The double standard among us Muslims and our organizations is glaring. On the one hand we claim that we condemn extremism or terrorism. On the other hand we don’t want the government to investigate us nor want our people to work with them to root out radical plots among us. The Muslims who do become informants or FBI agents are often ostracized or have articles and web pages dedicated to rail against them or encourage violence and abuse. In the social media, informants and agents often cannot publicly rebut the abuse and accusations of wrongdoing due to ongoing cases which can last years, making it very easy for family and friends loyal to the accused to mislead public opinion and create a conspiracy. The job of law enforcement and supporting informants is not to engage in a social media battle, but deal with investigations and the courts.
Interestingly, Islamic organizations publicly are telling members to work with law enforcement if they come across information regarding extremism and terrorism. However, within the Islamic community, we often choose as a default to focus on government investigative methods and defend perpetrators rather than consider the evidence or support someone (an informant) who tried to help prevent a crime affecting the community by approaching authorities with information. It’s a catch 22 in logic.
I can identify with this catch 22. I remember in 2004 when I was attending a seminar at the Department of Justice (DOJ) with a friend from the DOJ who was interested in my diversity training programme for government agencies on Islam and Muslim communities. At the time, I was heavily involved with a national Islamic organization who supported my activist work, putting on anti-war and pro-Palestine protests, defending the Muslim community in the media, and seminars. I met my first “Muslim” FBI agent. I didn’t know he was a Muslim FBI agent at the time. I sat next to him. When he told me his name and that he was a FBI agent I perked up in intrigue. He went on to explain that he was a Muslim. My heart sank as if I was talking to Satan himself. It was time for prayer, so I reluctantly made Thuhr Salat (afternoon prayer) with him and then began to talk to him again afterwards. As we talked more, he explained that his motivation was to help the Muslim community fight against terrorism but that most of his Muslim friends and even some of his family had disowned him when he told them he was going to become an FBI agent. I walked away with dismay, intrigue, confusion and a lasting question as to why and how a “Muslim” could do this (become an FBI agent). I fought back the notion to think that he had abandon Islam and is fighting against Muslims.
“O you who have believed, when you go forth [to fight] in the cause of Allah , investigate; and do not say to one who gives you [a greeting of] peace “You are not a believer,” aspiring for the goods of worldly life; for with Allah are many acquisitions. You [yourselves] were like that before; then Allah conferred His favor upon you, so investigate. Indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” ~Qur’an 4:94
I didn’t believe that Islam teaches us to make Takfir (pronounce not-Muslim) on another Muslim. It stuck with me for a long time, until I deprogrammed from the community narrative that the intentions of government and their investigations are out to “get” Muslims or round us up. It may be the talk of right-wing conservative pundits. However, there is no such grand conspiracy among a any of the thousands of law enforcement agents and officers that I came to know through my classes, many who were very conservative leaning. The Muslim FBI agent had the right intention, to investigate and find out who is a threat to the Muslim community and society at large.
Focusing on Wrong People
The fact is that in any country or national, state, or local jurisdiction in the US, there may be bad agents, bad informants, bad investigations. It is the reason to insure proper oversight, not a reason for Muslims to distrust law enforcement. It is not a reason to be overly suspicious of the system put in place to protect us from radical behaviour and acts of terrorism or to jump the gun on claiming entrapment. Many more good agents, informants and their investigations are there to protect (not just the general public) the Muslim community as well.
Investigations involving informants can run into the millions of dollars. There is no institutional motivation to waste millions of dollars falsely accusing people or creating new cases, just to make a case against a Muslim. Intentionally focusing on the wrong people would be counterproductive and make room for the real threats to fall through the cracks.
Conversely, in many Muslim countries (countries that most Muslims in the United States are from) the system does have a motivation to suppress Muslims. Many more Muslim organisations exist in those societies that are often viewed as a direct threat to the ruling party, dictatorships or military power structure (just look at the Arab Uprising).
“Government critics say Malaysia’s sedition laws have been increasingly used to silence dissent.” ~BBC
That is not to say that those countries are justified in their actions of suppression towards their own people, but to say that those Muslims who come to the west and occupy our Masajid (Mosques) carry the same cultural attitudes towards the US government and law enforcement that they had back in their home country. The attitudes are often taught to us converts as if it is “Islamic” to view our own government in the same way. You often hear the attitude parroted from many of us Muslim activists, from the minbar (puplit) at Jummah (friday prayers), or in special talks, conventions and programmes.
In a US court, because we are presumed innocent and cannot convict if there is “reasonable doubt“, it’s important that we understand that it is the defense lawyer’s job to create reasonable doubt, even if the truth is that the defendant is guilty. It is why, given the overwhelming evidence against an individual, the defense claims entrapment in the majority of extremism cases in the US. As a community we cannot take defense arguments as “Scripture” and begin campaigns against the government or it’s informants, on behalf of people claiming entrapment and being falsely accused. We have to weigh the facts ourselves, listen to the court evidence and understand the legal definition of entrapment.
“When they disregarded the warnings that had been given them, We rescued those who forbade Evil; but We visited the wrong-doers with a grievous punishment because they were given to transgression.” ~Qur’an 7:165
The Entrapment Bandwagon
It is important for Muslims to see the usefulness of law enforcement activity, support it and refrain from jumping on the “entrapment” bandwagon. Just because a case involves a paid or unpaid informant does not mean that they or the government set out to “entrap” the would be perpetrator, nor does it reflect on the quality of their information.
There is a lot of confusion about what “entrapment” means and in most extremist plot cases where there is a claim of entrapment people have no clue what it means. All that is required to begin an investigation using an informant is that idea or engagement of a criminal act originate from the would be criminal. Anything after that which the agency provides goes towards discovering the extent of a plot, those involved and collecting evidence to support the case in court that intent exists.
“The key to entrapment is whether the idea for the commission or encouragement of the criminal act originated with the police or government agents instead of with the “criminal.” ~Online Legal Dictionary
If us Muslims want to stay out of the criminal justice system, stay far away from the anything to do with extremism. When I was a young Catholic boy (long before I converted to Islam) playing with my siblings, my grandmother would always warn me, “Don’t say, ‘I’ll kill you’ to your brothers and sisters. Someone might believe you.” Muslims need to live by this rule. Don’t talk about wanting to do violent things. Someone just might believe you. Don’t even broach the topic if someone mentions it first. If someone begins the topic, walk away and have nothing to do with it. If they are being investigated, they might drag you in with them if what you say can be interpreted as intent. If you are not involved, you have nothing to fear. Otherwise, as explained later in this article, it becomes your Islamic duty to approach the authorities.
The fact is that the majority of cases involving informants and Muslims who plot to commit acts related to radicalism are solid cases based in well documented evidence and not entrapment.
Rage Against the Informant
It is also important for the community to realize that “rooting out” informants by posting their names, pictures and video railing against them on the internet is a futile exercise. It shows to the public the Muslim community’s unwillingness to be trusted by society (and law enforcement) to help protect the public from extremist plots. By doing this we subvert our community leader’s statements against extremism given to the public, whom we are trying to get to accept us as not being law abiding citizens and not “terrorist sympathizers”. It does nothing to prevent more people within the community from becoming informants. It does more harm to the peaceful existence of the Muslim community in the west than good and does not do anything to further the cause of the person charged with a crime.
We must get away from the culture of revenge commonly seen in Muslim countries. Revenge is a personal act of vigilantism that is more than often misguided and commonly seen in the cultures of many Muslim countries (revenge killing for example). It is our duty as Muslims to stand for justice and if we feel that there has been an injustice it is not our place to take revenge. In Islam from the earliest time of the creation of the Islamic Ummah in Madina, the rule of law has been central to social justice. If we truly believe in the innocence of a person, or an injustice has been done, then it becomes our duty to insure that the truth comes out without taking revenge.
“Twice will they be given their reward, for that they have persevered, that they avert Evil with Good, and that they spend (in charity) out of what We have given them.” ~Qur’an 28:54
“The Messenger of Allah replied: An angel came down from Heaven and he was rejecting what he had said to you. When you took revenge, a devil came down. I was not going to sit when the devil came down.” ~Abu-Dawud, General Behavior, Book 41, Number 4878
It could be that the informant that you are trying to take revenge against is the person that has not done something wrong. It is our duty as Muslims to stand for justice even if it be against someone we love from our families, tribes, nation, and yes even religion, etc.
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” ~Qur’an 4:135
Many criminals, be they in business, drug bosses, mafia bosses, etc., are often otherwise upstanding citizens and involve themselves in charity work and other community services. Charity work or the fact that we know them as upstanding people in the community does not mean they have not been involved in secret criminal activity that can only be discovered through a covert investigation using informants, the only way the crime would otherwise be discovered.
Sense and Sensibility
Let’s be sensible. Wouldn’t it be better that the criminal activity was discovered than to have your sons, daughters or friends blow something up or set off for Iraq or Syria to become a suicide bomber, kill people including other Muslims, lop off peoples heads or burn people alive on youtube? Or maybe returning to set off a bomb in our own country? Thinking even further up the investigative ladder, would you rather it be discovered prior to a person using your charitable or religious organizations as a springboard to do something that could lead to this? You tell me.
Gathering intelligence from people to protect Muslims has been central to survival in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad and the basis for Allah’s granting the them permission to make hijra (immigrate) to Madina.
Today, like non-Muslim countries, every Muslim country in the world has domestic intelligence services designed to root out extremism, drugs, and organized crime. Still, there remains a huge taboo and a great degree of suspicion among Muslims regarding the use of informants in investigations in the United States.
In the United Arab Emirates, there are undercover plain clothes police officers on the streets making arrests. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) goes undercover to make arrests. Who do we think the Inter-service Intelligence agency (ISI) is in Pakistan? What about the Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah (General Intelligence Presidency; GIP) of Saudi Arabia? Do we think these agencies announce their terrorist investigations to the extremists they are investigating? How do we think they gather intelligence on plots? It is “human intelligence”, i.e. informants.
O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. ~Qur’an 49:12
The fact is, in the United States (and most western countries) a person stands a better chance at being accused objectively and/or having a fair trial and appeals than they would in many Muslim countries, like for example, Egypt or Pakistan.
Though the Qur’an forbids individuals spying for personal reasons such as backbiting or gossip, it is clear by the Seerah (history), Qur’an and scholars in Muslim countries that informing authorities so that they can investigate criminal activity, which could harm Muslims or society at large, is permitted. One would be hard pressed to find a scholar to say the opposite.
Our Islamic Duty
Once a Muslim discovers that another has intent to break the law, he/she has an obligation to bring it to the attention of authorities and cooperate in any way necessary to protect all parties involved.
“And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” ~Qur’an 5:2
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” Qur’an 4:135
Fatwa from The Fiqh Council of North America
- All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam.
- It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence.
- It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.
Don’t let radicalized Muslims carry out acts in your name, the name of your religion that you hold dear. If you have information, it is up to you to stop it.
If you know someone who is thinking that they are going to go on hijra (immigration) to a Muslim land to fight in a Jihad (struggle) to establish “Justice in the Land” and establish the Calipha (Caliphate), think ahead of what they might be doing and how it will affect Muslims and their organizations in your country.
The Caliphate cannot be established through violence and injustice.
“We must remember that injustice cannot be removed by another injustice.” ~IslamOnline – Muzammil Siddiqi